Anthony Stokes' show boosts claims for recall to Ireland fold
IN the aftermath of Celtic's Champions League defeat to AC Milan, Anthony Stokes indicated that his international future is out of his hands. There's reason to disagree with that statement.
If the Celtic striker continues to perform like he did at the San Siro, then Ireland's next boss will have no option but to give him an opportunity.
Finally, the Dubliner is starting to look like the player that every Irish fan wanted him to become. He's not there yet, but his performance on Wednesdasy showed that he is on the right track.
The former Arsenal and Sunderland star almost made his mark in spectacular fashion with a second-half free-kick that smashed off the crossbar when the teams were level.
After taking a while to convince Neil Lennon that he could be trusted in fixtures of this magnitude, Stokes made a hugely positive contribution and has received favourable reviews in the Scottish press.
With Barcelona up next on October 1, he has an even better opportunity to advertise his credentials, particularly with the concluding World Cup double-header against Germany and Kazakhstan appearing over the horizon.
The Barca clash is a huge game for the SPL champions, who really cannot afford to start with back-to-back defeats if they are to qualify for the knockout stages from a devilishly tricky group.
With Shane Long and Jon Walters the only Irish strikers playing regularly in the Premier League, there is an opportunity for Stokes to come in and provide competition for Robbie Keane, the man he was once tipped to replace.
Certainly, he is keen to get involved again with Giovanni Trapattoni gone. "It's not going to do me any harm," said Stokes when he was asked by RTE what Champions League football could do for his Irish chances.
"I've always said I would love to be back in the fold, but it is not down to me. I am just going to keep playing my football, try and improve as much as I can and if I get the nod, I get the nod."
The 25-year-old declined to get dragged into a discussion on the identity of the next manager.
Roy Keane, a complete outsider given his history with the FAI, would have knowledge of Stokes from their turbulent relationship at Sunderland.
Martin O'Neill, the front-runner, has never worked with him before, but is known as a motivator who can get the best from players and Stokes could fit into the 4-4-1-1 formation that the Derry native preferred at Sunderland.
"He is a top manager," added Stokes. "But it's all speculation at the minute, isn't it?"